The Skin I Live In” – Pedro Almodóvar

The Skin I Live In.

The Skin I Live In.

The lat­est Almod­ó­var, The Skin I Live In, has just opened in the States and is reviewed in the New York Times by its chief film crit­ic, Manohla Dar­gis here  I can only assume that her Chris­t­ian name is evi­dence of His­pan­ic blood, and it is this that has result­ed in the clog­ging up of her crit­i­cal fac­ul­ties, caus­ing some­thing of a block­age there.

I’m loath to say that this is the worst film that Almod­ó­var has made to date. The truth of the mat­ter is, he is con­sti­tu­tion­al­ly inca­pable of mak­ing a bad film. Now that the anar­chic, prodi­gal excess of his spring has set­tled down into the stud­ied, lan­guid calm of his late sum­mer, all of his films are impec­ca­bly craft­ed and exquis­ite­ly fashioned.

What you tend to get instead is some­thing of a yin and yang. For every Mata­dor (’86), Law Of Desire (’87) and The Flower Of My Secret (’95), there’s a Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down (’90) a High Heels (‘91) and a Kika (’93). All of them are sump­tu­ous to look at, but some, as that lat­ter trio illus­trate, are very, very thin. And this is the least sub­stan­tial of all. Nobody expects him to repro­duce the dizzy heights of 1999’s majes­tic All About My Moth­er, but it’s hard not to feel pro­found­ly dis­ap­point­ed by his lat­est effort.

A young Antonio Banderas in The Law Of Desire.

A young Anto­nio Ban­deras in The Law Of Desire.

It’s impos­si­ble to watch The Skin I live In with­out view­ing it as some sort of Frankenstein’s mon­ster. The script takes a bit of Vic­to­ri­an goth­ic, a touch of sci­ence fic­tion, some Sirkian melo­dra­ma, the odd flash of farce, and bits and pieces of his cus­tom­ary sex and vio­lence, for­mi­da­ble females and trade­mark tran­sex­u­als and tries to patch them all togeth­er. Like all such cre­ations, it’s an uned­i­fy­ing mess to behold, and you only wish that the bril­liant cre­ator had made more valu­able use of his pre­cious time.

How can the hand that penned the mag­nif­i­cent script for All About My Moth­er have sim­i­lar­ly con­trived to pro­duce this? All writ­ers should watch the for­mer at least once, espe­cial­ly the open­ing four min­utes, which is as lean and eco­nom­i­cal an open­ing to a sto­ry as you could ever wish to find. And all of what fol­lows is equal­ly as impres­sive. There is an inter­est­ing sto­ry point buried in the mid­dle here, when The Skin I Live In asks whether or not rape can ever be in some way mitigated.

All About My Mother.

All About My Mother.

If she says No, but he goes ahead any­way, then his actions are unfor­giv­able. If they both con­sent, but she “realis­es” months lat­er that actu­al­ly she was “raped”, then hers are inex­cus­able. But what if, for what­ev­er rea­sons, he gen­uine­ly believes that she has con­sent­ed, and she is cer­tain that she hasn’t? Is that still rape, pure and sim­ple? But rather than allow this in any way devel­op, it imme­di­ate­ly gets lost in all the com­pet­ing genre con­ven­tions and plot contrivances.

It’s wrong to describe this as his worst film. Despite being a com­par­a­tive term, that some­how seems to denote an absence of worth. It is still an Amod­ó­var film with all the sen­so­ry grat­i­fi­ca­tion that that always promis­es. But it’s an extreme­ly dis­ap­point­ing one.

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